Thursday, October 4, 2007

Building a Brand So Sweet, it Lasts for Generations: The Story of See's Chocolates

An inspiring business success story always gets the juices flowing as the reader feels the flow of success and wise decisions bringing them along for the ride. Combine the rush of a good story with a story about chocolate and you have an irresistible combination.

It all began with the matriarchal figure of Mary See. Mary's recipes for chocolates and candies built the See's Candy Empire that has wooed America since 1921. See's Candies uses the finest quality ingredients and always has. That is one of the secrets to their success. Even during the Depression, they didn't cut corners. Their customers can always count on a quality candy and that is why their customers keep coming back. Does your customer have the same, quality experience over and over again?

The See Candy story is a classic American success story. They were descendents of Ireland, whose family immigrated to Ontario. Mary's son, Charles, was working as a salesman, selling ingredients in bulk to bakeries. There was a popular candy shop chain in Ontario and Charles felt that he could create something better. He and his family, including his mother Mary and her meticulous and loved candy recipes, moved to Los Angeles to open their own store.

It was popular in the 1920's to brand food products with a "trust-worthy, mother or grandmother" image. In 1921, the company that later became General Mills, created Betty Crocker, a fictitious woman who, in 1945, was voted the second most popular woman in America (behind Eleanor Roosevelt).* Charles went along with this trend, using his mother's photograph as the logo for See's Candy. This tribute not only reminded Charles and the employees where their great recipes came from, it also instilled the "warm fuzzy feeling" one has when we think of a gray-haired, plump woman's baking. We trust that it must be delicious. The logo and its emotional assurance and ability to generate fond memories of grandma's baking in some of us, is just one example of the cleverness Charles displayed when running his company. Does your company's logo have a broad, emotional appeal? Recently, logos have moved into the abstract or graphic look. Could your company's brand benefit from using a photograph?

Though the 1920's was profitable for the See's and they had several shops, the Depression of the '30s held them back a bit but they were able to keep their doors open and were even expanding by 1936. They renegotiated their leases, the employee salaries, and lowered the price for a pound of chocolate. ** All these measures ensured their success. Of course, they never compromised their quality so their brand was maintained. If your business has gone through lean times, have you been tempted to cut corners on your product? If you do then your customer cannot trust your product again.

Many business owners dream of selling their business for a lot of money. This was true for See's Candy. In 1972 the surviving family sold their business to one of the best businessmen in America's History, Warren Buffett.

I've highlighted only a few of the business decisions that led to the success of this company. Charles See was a visionary and a problem solver. He was committed to a course of action and took his family business to a level of success that few companies achieve. If you would like to learn more about this legacy and how you can apply their innovative thinking to your business, I encourage you to read "See's Famous Old Time Candies: A Sweet Story" by Margaret Moos Pick.

*The Betty Crocker Story, CS News book review, 2005

**"See's Famous Old Time Candies: A Sweet Story" by Margaret Moos Pick, (2005). p. 28

You can order See's candies online.

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